Ok, Hanoi isn’t one of those cities with bright lights, super clubs and streets full of glitzy people, drinking fancy cocktails. If you want that, then best to go to Bangkok or even Saigon. The bar scene in Hanoi is getting better, 5 years ago when I first moved here we had a couple of bars, and now we have a few more than a couple. We still however, seem to end up at the same bar at some point in the weekend. There are lots of small bars selling relatively cheap drinks, with 90’s music which cater for expat and intrepid tourists. There are bars with thumping music (actually, make that deafening music), over priced drinks and very uberly cool looking rich Vietnamese, which I generally avoid, mainly due to prices and the fact that I value my ear drums. There are also a few cocktail like bars frequented by expats and Viet Kieu’s (those who were educated outside of Vietnam but of Vietnam nationality). Ok maybe best to start with what to drink, then I will list my favourite drinking holes.
Hanoi has many beers, domestic and international. Here is a list with my comments.
Bia Hoi – local beer, normally 3,000 dong for a glass. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. It is 3,000 VND for a glass. First glass goes down slowly, then your taste buds adapt and before you know it, its 3 hours later, but don’t fret because the bill isn’t going to damage your wallet too much. I actually either buy a 7 UP or ask for a slice of lime, to smoothen the taste a bit. My favourite place to drink Bia Hoi is…………Bia Hoi Corner, of course! Its at the junction of Loung Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien on the Old Quarter. Its also fun too just to stumble across a bia hoi place and just order one and watch the world go by (they are everywhere, recognisable by Vietnamese men, sitting on small plastic chairs, drinking from cups, who promptly leave at 8pm because they are too drunk to stand up).
Halida – my personal favourite, good value. It’s my King of Beers
Beer Ha Noi – a no from me, unless I am in the countryside where there is no option but plenty of ice available I am not going to buy this stuff. Sorry.
La Rue – this is ok, but mind the hangovers, for some reason this is the killer in the morning.
The rest of them are Hieneken (say Ken if you want to sound local), Tiger etc etc. These are imported so come at a price.
Expect to drink beer with ice, many places don’t have fridges or just don’t get that westerners don’t like ice with their beers. Get used to it and get over it. Life ain’t that bad, the beers are cheap!
Rice Wine – when in Vietnam you have to try rice wine. Best places to try are in the countryside (normally you’ll have no choice as a local family befriend you), Highway 4 (they make their own which is delicious) or Chim Sao (see Hanoi Restarants)
PLACES TO DRINK
Ok, here goes, this is by no means comprehensive and things change a lot, especially even during the week. Hanoi is unpredictable.
Maos Red Lounge. This has been my favourite bar since I got to Hanoi 4 years ago. Its small, smokey, cramped, has a play list that is on repeat, the drinks are rediculously cheap and the owner and staff are awesome. What more could you want from a bar?
Funky Buddha – also on Ta Hien. This has good music, is actually quite funky, has lots of bright lights and mirrors but isn’t bad if you want to spend a little more on drinks, get table service and hang out with the cool crowd.
Q Bar – ok while we’re in this area, you can pop into Q Bar. Its at the end of Luong Ngoc Quyen (west end at the bend where it goes around to the right). It has good music, a pool table, prices are quite expensive but its worth it if you fancy a boogie.
Le Pub – there are 2 of these but I like the one on Hang Be. It has great value drinks (wednesdays are one dollar for a g and t all day) and the food is ok. Its very touristy but thats not a bad thing. Great place to sit and watch the world go by. Also the beers are always cold (a rare treat in Hanoi).
The Factory – a new bar in Hanoi/art gallery. I like this place, they have live music often, its got an outside terrace and the drinks are good. It’s on Bao Khanh (the tiny street off Bao Khanh, just west of Hoan Kiem Lake).
Black Pearl – another new addition to the Hanoi music scene with live music, pirate look. Its open late until the early hours and the vibe is pretty cool. Kicks off at weekends. It’s on Yen Phu which is a taxi drive north of the Old Quarter just past Sofitel Plaza hotel. Not sure which number but if you drive north its on the right and has an anchor painted outside.
Fusion Bar – a new favourite of mine. This bar is on Truc Bac lake so has glorious views and is super chilled. Great cocktails, great shisha and a cool vibe. I have never seen it heaving so its more a place to chill out, but they do salsa once a week (will find out when). Its also a great place to have pre/post drinks after eating a hot pot or Pho Cuon on Truc Bach Lake. Actually, thinking about it, if you want a nice evening away from the Old Quarter which is relatively cheap. Head to Truc Bach lake, eat some Pho Cuon and then go to Fusion Bar fro some cocktails. Sorted. Address is 25 Truc Bach
Hanoi Rock City – another new addition to Hanoi (I told you the city is rocking) and it truly is. Live music here we come. This place attracts local and international rock bands and is uuber cool with inside and outside venue, and a lovely bridge in between. Certaintly gets a good crowd of locals and expats at weekends and is kinda the place to be seen amongt the cool kids. Its on To Ngoc Van which is just off Xuan Dieu up in Tay Ho/West Lake. Rock on!!!
Rooftop Bar – ok I have to admit I have never been here but my fancy friends rave about it. Its on the rooftop of Pacific Place on Ly Thong Kiet and apparently has good cocktails (am sure at a price) and awesome views. Must try it out soon, maybe wait until I am paid..
Don’s – great happy hour, buy one get one free on all drinks between 5 – 7 every day. It’s got an awesome rooftop overlooking west lake, with oyster bar and a great resturant below if you get too drunk and can’t be bothered to move. They also, apparently, do a great saturday morning mexican eat and drink as much as you can thing between 11am – 3pm. Its on Ngo 27, Xuan Dieu in west lake area. Oh, and out of happy hour, bring your credit card…
Deluva – another establishment that requires a credit card but has good happy hour too also between 5 – 7pm. Has a local feel and very good food. I love the shared platter and also the Baos Chicken. And don’t forget to try their speciality: Crouching Tiger Drink – tiger beer, passion fruit, honey, lime and chili. 90,000 VND for one but in Happy Hour you get 2 for that…. bargain!
Puku: Its 2am, the bars have closed, but don’t fret, you don’t have to go home…yet. Puku serves alcohol and western food 24/7. Yup, just what Hanoi needed. They also have live music venues and yoga in the mornings. Nice venue, friendly crowd (mixed western and VN) good value food, cocktails are a little pricey but you can’t really complain. Its on 24 hour food street off Hang Bong. See Hanoi Restuarants for exact address.
Phuc Tan – ok I can’t really believe I am recommending this place, but its a kind of Hanoi establishment and as far as I can work out, never closes. Its on the river, has shocking music, a nice outside terracy area, average priced drinks. But yeah, has a dance floor and garenteed everyone else there is as drunk as you, so no worries there. Just be really careful when leaving, don’t take any of the taxis, best to call one Hanoi Taxis 0438535353. I had a bad experience a few years back.
Solace – this has slightly been taken over by the teenager gay community of Hanoi but is still worth a shot if negotiating a gang plank onto a boat that definitely wouldn’t pass any European Elf n safety laws is your idea of fun. Be aware of thieves, don’t leave anything behind the bar, they will loose it. But its fun for a while and if you’re drunk enough. Normally closes at 2am. Don’t ask me where it is, I have been there far too many times but really have no idea. Its somewhere on the river.
Ok, so am sure there are more places but that’s all the ones I can think of. I used to like Dragon Fly on Hang Buom but its been taken over by UNIS (international school kids) at weekends and the decor really has gone down hill. The bar staff, are however the best and friendly bar staff in town so its a real shame.
Jeez, I nearly forgot Tet Bar, another establishment that never closes, this is tiny (its on Ta Hien) and serves cheap drinks and ham and cheese toasties (a savour at 4am). Expect very drunk expats, clinging onto their chairs. I prefer Puku for 4am drinks and food but if you’re in the Old Quarter this may be a more convenient option.
Written by Abs Lakin (expat in Hanoi)